Smith expresses disappointment at sub-standard fodder support scheme

– Minister refuses to roll out essential meal voucher scheme –

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Agriculture Minister to establish a meal voucher scheme to farmers affected by the ongoing fodder crisis.  Farmers in the North West have been hardest hit by the fodder shortage, and are having to transport feed from other parts of the country.

Deputy Smith explained, “The fodder support scheme announced by Minister Michael Creed last week simply doesn’t go far enough.  Although it may provide some small relief in helping to cover transport costs, it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

“My party has been calling for a meal voucher scheme for farmers for some time, and the Minister’s decision not to include one in this latest announcement is further evidence of just how out of touch he really is.  This fodder crisis did not just happen overnight – Fianna Fáil has been warning of the impact of the situation on the ground for months, but the Minister refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation.

“Some farmers across Cavan and Monaghan do not have enough feed to get them through the winter months and are now solely reliant on buying fodder in other parts of the country and transporting it in.  This is an expense that many of them can ill afford.  This is why a voucher scheme is so important.

“The Department of Agriculture ran up an underspend of almost €80m last year – surely some of this could be used to finance a meal voucher scheme for affected farmers?  The scheme announced last week could lead to more demand for already diminished fodder supplies, further driving up prices and increased pressure on already financially hard-pressed farmers”.

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LIMITED FODDER AID SCHEME TO BE INTRODUCED – BRENDAN SMITH TD

Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith has been informed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine that his Department is engaging with stakeholders, including through the Fodder task force, with a view to providing a targeted contribution towards long-distance transport of fodder to those areas most impacted by the adverse weather. Deputy Brendan Smith had tabled further Parliamentary Questions in Dáil Éireann to the Minister asking him to introduce a Fodder Aid Scheme in view of the serious difficulties facing many farmers in areas such as Cavan and Monaghan in which there are fodder shortages and if he would make a statement on the matter.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in his response to Deputy Brendan Smith stated –

“Weather conditions for much of last autumn and early winter were challenging for farmers, particularly in parts of the West/North West. This resulted in the earlier housing of stock and challenges for some farmers in terms of Fodder conservation. On foot of these challenges, I prioritised the payment of farm supports to assist farmers with cash flow. The European Commission agreed to my request,  informed in part by the poor  weather conditions  of last autumn, for an advance payment of the 2017 Basic Payment Scheme and Agri-environment schemes. These payments commenced after the earliest date possible which was 15th October, and balancing payments issued in early December.

These payments together with those issued under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme, injected over €1.3 billion into the Irish rural economy by the end of last year and  are providing a very welcome boost for Irish farm families and will help to finance fodder purchase where necessary.

Last autumn as poor weather conditions continued, I then asked Teagasc to work locally in areas with fodder difficulties, supporting good budgeting for fodder supplies on farms over the winter ahead.

Furthermore, in order to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the issue of fodder availability in affected areas, I convened a fodder group chaired by Teagasc and comprising of all the main stakeholders including feed merchants and co-ops, banking, farm bodies etc.  The group held its first meeting in December and again on Monday 15th of this week. The group’s objective is to actively monitor the situation and to ensure co-ordinated expertise and guidance is available to affected farmers regarding their options. These may include sourcing alternative feed, reducing non-breeding stock numbers and ensuring they continue to carry out fodder budgeting.

As outlined at the weekend, my Department is engaging with stakeholders, including through Fodder task force, with a view to providing a targeted contribution towards long-distance transport of fodder to those areas most impacted by the adverse weather. As the deputy can appreciate, fodder sale and purchase is a normal and significant trade between farms on an annual basis and it is important that any prudent measure brought forward is appropriately targeted to those most impacted whilst not impacting negatively on this trade.

I would also stress that if a situation arises where the welfare of livestock is at risk, herdowners should contact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Animal Welfare helpline or Regional Veterinary Office for support” concluded Minister Creed in his reply to Brendan Smith TD.

The Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil TD stressed that it is essential that an appropriate and adequate Scheme is introduced without delay to ensure that farmers in financial difficulty due to fodder shortages are given the necessary support at this time.

______________________________________________

For Written Answer on : 16/01/2018

Question Number(s): 1240 Question Reference(s): 1804/18

Department: Agriculture, Food and the Marine

______________________________________________

 QUESTION

 To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine his plans to introduce a fodder aid scheme in view of the serious difficulties facing many persons in areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan in which there are fodder shortages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. – Brendan Smith TD

REPLY

  Weather conditions for much of last autumn and early winter were challenging for farmers, particularly in parts of the West/North West. This resulted in the earlier housing of stock and challenges for some farmers in terms of Fodder conservation. On foot of these challenges, I prioritised the payment of farm supports to assist farmers with cash flow. The European Commission agreed to my request,  informed in part by the poor  weather conditions  of last autumn, for an advance payment of the 2017 Basic Payment Scheme and Agri-environment schemes. These payments commenced after the earliest date possible which was 15th October, and balancing payments issued in early December.

These payments together with those issued under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme, injected over €1.3 billion into the Irish rural economy by the end of last year and  are providing a very welcome boost for Irish farm families and will help to finance fodder purchase where necessary.

Last autumn as poor weather conditions continued, I then asked Teagasc to work locally in areas with fodder difficulties, supporting good budgeting for fodder supplies on farms over the winter ahead.

Furthermore, in order to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the issue of fodder availability in affected areas, I convened a fodder group chaired by Teagasc and comprising of all the main stakeholders including feed merchants and co-ops, banking, farm bodies etc.  The group held its first meeting in December and again on Monday 15th of this week. The group’s objective is to actively monitor the situation and to ensure co-ordinated expertise and guidance is available to affected farmers regarding their options. These may include sourcing alternative feed, reducing non-breeding stock numbers and ensuring they continue to carry out fodder budgeting.

As outlined at the weekend, my Department is engaging with stakeholders, including through Fodder task force, with a view to providing a targeted contribution towards long-distance transport of fodder to those areas most impacted by the adverse weather. As the deputy can appreciate, fodder sale and purchase is a normal and significant trade between farms on an annual basis and it is important that any prudent measure brought forward is appropriately targeted to those most impacted whilst not impacting negatively on this trade.

I would also stress that if a situation arises where the welfare of livestock is at risk, herdowners should contact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Animal Welfare helpline or Regional Veterinary Office for support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Govt must come clean on delivery of National Broadband Plan – Smith

– Goalposts keep changing on target times –

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Taoiseach to clarify when all homes and businesses will have access to a high-speed broadband connection.  Large parts of Cavan and Monaghan fall under the Government’s National Broadband Plan, but the timeframe for connections has been pushed out time and time again.

Deputy Smith commented, “The National Broadband Plan was announced in 2012 but almost 6 years later we are still waiting for contracts to be signed to roll out high-speed broadband to homes and businesses in Monaghan and Cavan, and right across the country.  There are over 32,000 people across the two counties dependent on the Government’s plan and the latest update from the Communications Minister Denis Naughten revealed that it could be another 5 years before these premises are connected.


“It has become clear that Minister Naughten has lost interest in pursuing the roll out of the NBP so I am now calling on the Taoiseach to intervene directly and outline where exactly the plan is at, and how long it will be before all homes and businesses will have access to quality, high-speed broadband.


“Broadband is one of the single biggest issues facing rural communities and the Government’s handling of the NBP has been nothing short of shambolic. The Programme for Government set a target of June 2017 for the awarding of the tender with a commitment to ‘to accelerate the roll out of the infrastructure next year [2017].’

“This Government has a serious issue when it comes to delivery.  It has been making promise after promise but has failed to follow through.  Every single target on broadband for rural Ireland has been missed.

“The Taoiseach needs to step up to the mark now and outline his Government’s plan to roll out broadband.  People are tired of the spin over substance; this Government needs to start delivering”.

______________________________________________

For Written Answer on : 29/11/2017

Question Number(s): 408 Question Reference(s): 51162/17

Department: Communications, Climate Action and Environment

______________________________________________

QUESTION

[Ref No.: 51162/17] * To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing concerns in relation to poor mobile telephone coverage in areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan; if he has discussed with the Communications Regulator the need for the telecommunications companies to make the necessary investments to ensure that all areas have adequate mobile coverage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. – Brendan Smith. *  For WRITTEN answer on Wednesday, 29th November, 2017. (905 Received on 3rd November, 2017.)

REPLY

Providing telecommunications services, including mobile phone services, is a matter for the relevant service providers operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as independent Regulator. I do not have statutory authority to require commercial companies to rollout services and make specific investments in particular locations. The ComReg consumer helpline is accessible at consumerline@comreg.ie and I would urge consumers who feel they have not received an appropriate response from service providers to make contact with the Regulator.

Notwithstanding ComReg’s independence, I recognise the frustration felt by Irish consumers – including in Counties Cavan and Monaghan – where telecommunications networks are not always delivering the services people expect. Accordingly, I specifically included in the Programme for Government a commitment to a Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce. In July 2016, I established the Taskforce to identify immediate solutions to broadband and mobile phone coverage deficits and investigate how better services could be provided to consumers, prior to the full build and roll-out of the network planned under the National Broadband Plan State intervention.

The Taskforce worked with key stakeholders to produce the December 2016 report available on my Department’s website, which contains 40 actions to alleviate some of the deficits. The Implementation Group I co-chair with Minister Kyne is overseeing implementation of the actions and comprises all key stakeholders responsible for delivery. This includes ComReg, who attend as both an action owner, and in an observer capacity in their role as the independent Regulator. Three meetings of the Implementation Group have been held so far – on 8 March, 5 July and 22 November.

This week I published the third Taskforce Quarterly Progress Report, which demonstrates that good progress has been made in delivering the actions. These reports show continuing progress and also the sustained level of engagement between actions owners and industry.

This engagement was clear in October at first National Stakeholder Forum in Athlone, which I hosted with Minister Kyne.  It arose from the Taskforce’s recognition that, given the rapid technological change and the emergence of new equipment and solutions to deliver telecommunications services, stakeholders needed an opportunity to raise concerns on impediments to the rollout of services. Issues impacting on rollout were discussed at the Forum, and there were also some new recommended actions for the Taskforce to help improve services to consumers and in preparing for roll-out of the National Broadband Plan network, once contracts are in place.

The Taskforce’s achievements to date include:

  • Funding of all local authorities to assign a Broadband Officer;
  • Close cooperation with local authorities to develop local digital strategies, including Government working closely with local authorities to identify approximately 320 high speed Strategic Community Access Hubs to be connected at an early juncture after award of the NBP contract;
  • ComReg’s development of a testing regime to check mobile handset performance which will inform consumers in choosing products and network services. ComReg will also develop a new network coverage map.
  • Most local authorities applying waivers in respect of development contributions for telecoms development.
  • Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) has constructed 80km of ducting on the M7/M8 corridor and 14km on the N25 in Cork, with more following in the coming months to help expedite infrastructure roll-out. TII is also reviewing the cost of duct access for telecoms. All of these initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of mobile phone and data services, particularly in rural areas such as Counties Cavan and Monaghan.
  • In tandem with the work of the Taskforce, the release by ComReg of the 3.6GHz radio spectrum band, which has been identified at EU level as a primary band suitable for the introduction of 5G, will also contribute to addressing increasing mobile data demands and improve mobile coverage. Mobile operators’ commercial investment has also resulted in improved services, following ComReg’s 2012 multi-band spectrum auction. At least one operator now has in excess of 90% 4G population coverage.

Mobile Telephony Services

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith   asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment   if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing concerns in relation to poor mobile telephone coverage in areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan; if he has discussed with the communications regulator the need for the telecommunications companies to make the necessary investments to ensure that all areas have adequate mobile coverage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51162/17]

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Denis Naughten):   Providing telecommunications services, including mobile phone services, is a matter for the relevant service providers operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as independent Regulator. I do not have statutory authority to require commercial companies to rollout services and make specific investments in particular locations. The ComReg consumer helpline is accessible at consumerline@comreg.ie and I would urge consumers who feel they have not received an appropriate response from service providers to make contact with the Regulator. Notwithstanding ComReg’s independence, I recognise the frustration felt by Irish consumers – including in Counties Cavan and Monaghan – where telecommunications networks are not always delivering the services people expect. Accordingly, I specifically included in the Programme for Government a commitment to a Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce. In July 2016, I established the Taskforce to identify immediate solutions to broadband and mobile phone coverage deficits and investigate how better services could be provided to consumers, prior to the full build and roll-out of the network planned under the National Broadband Plan State intervention.

The Taskforce worked with key stakeholders to produce the December 2016 report available on my Department’s website, which contains 40 actions to alleviate some of the deficits. The Implementation Group I co-chair with Minister Kyne is overseeing implementation of the actions and comprises all key stakeholders responsible for delivery. This includes ComReg, who attend as both an action owner, and in an observer capacity in their role as the independent Regulator. Three meetings of the Implementation Group have been held so far – on 8 March, 5 July and 22 November.

This week I published the third Taskforce Quarterly Progress Report, which demonstrates that good progress has been made in delivering the actions. These reports show continuing progress and also the sustained level of engagement between actions owners and industry.

This engagement was clear in October at first National Stakeholder Forum in Athlone, which I hosted with Minister Kyne.  It arose from the Taskforce’s recognition that, given the rapid technological change and the emergence of new equipment and solutions to deliver telecommunications services, stakeholders needed an opportunity to raise concerns on impediments to the rollout of services. Issues impacting on rollout were discussed at the Forum, and there were also some new recommended actions for the Taskforce to help improve services to consumers and in preparing for roll-out of the National Broadband Plan network, once contracts are in place.

The Taskforce’s achievements to date include:

– Funding of all local authorities to assign a Broadband Officer;

– Close cooperation with local authorities to develop local digital strategies, including Government working closely with local authorities to identify approximately 320 high speed Strategic Community Access Hubs to be connected at an early juncture after award of the NBP contract;

– ComReg’s development of a testing regime to check mobile handset performance which will inform consumers in choosing products and network services. ComReg will also develop a new network coverage map.

– Most local authorities applying waivers in respect of development contributions for telecoms development.

– Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) has constructed 80km of ducting on the M7/M8 corridor and 14km on the N25 in Cork, with more following in the coming months to help expedite infrastructure roll-out. TII is also reviewing the cost of duct access for telecoms.

In tandem with the work of the Taskforce, the release by ComReg of the 3.6GHz radio spectrum band, which has been identified at EU level as a primary band suitable for the introduction of 5G, will also contribute to addressing increasing mobile data demands and improve mobile coverage. Mobile operators’ commercial investment has also resulted in improved services, following ComReg’s 2012 multi-band spectrum auction. At least one operator now has in excess of 90% 4G population coverage.

All of these initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of mobile phone and data services, particularly in rural areas such as Counties Cavan and Monaghan.


 

Smith demands movement on pension anomalies this year

– 2012 changes have led to reduced pensions for women –

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has again called on the Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection to ensure that a commitment to remove the anomalies in the State contributory pension are progressed this year.

“This is an issue that I have been raising for years, and the fact that we still have a situation where thousands of people, and women in particular, are losing out on pension entitlements as a result of crass changes that were brought in by the previous Fine Gael-Labour Government, is scandalous”, said Deputy Brendan Smith.

“In a Parliamentary Reply, Minister Regina Doherty stated that “it is expected that this approach to pension qualification will replace the current one from around 2020”.  That’s another two years away.  This anomaly, which was introduced 6 years ago needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency – why can’t the Government understand that?

“Some people are losing as much as €30 per week or €1,500 per year. This is a substantial amount of money, especially for older people who are solely reliant on the State pension.

“My party brought forward a motion on this issue back in October, which received cross party support.  The time has come now for the Government to act and begin the process of addressing this anomaly.  I am urging Minister Doherty not to let this issue slip off the Government agenda, and to ensure that the punitive changes, which were introduced by the last Government are reversed as quickly as possible”.

 

To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of the commitment to remove the anomalies in the method of calculation of entitlements to the State contributory pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

– Brendan Smith.

* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 28th November, 2017.

R E P L Y

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Regina Doherty T.D.):

It is proposed to answer Question Nos. 661 and 678 together.

The National Pensions Framework proposed that a total contribution approach should replace the yearly average approach. Under this approach, the rate of pension paid would more closely reflect the total number of Social Insurance contributions made by a person throughout her or his working life and the anomalies of the Yearly Averaging method of calculating entitlement would be removed. It is expected that this approach to pension qualification will replace the current one from around 2020.

A proposal for the precise method of how the Total Contributions Approach will be implemented is currently being finalised by officials in my Department, having recently received the Actuarial Review of the Social Insurance Fund 2015. When this has been finalised, I intend to consult with relevant stakeholders before a decision in made on the final proposal by Government. That proposal will then be subject to the legislative process which may result in further changes.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.

 

Renewed call to Minister for Agriculture to introduce a Fodder Aid Scheme – Brendan Smith TD

Below is reply by the Agriculture Minister to the most recent Parliamentary Question I tabled in Dáil Éireann re the urgent need to introduce a Fodder Aid Scheme.

“It is most regrettable that the Minister for Agriculture continues to ignore our ongoing appeals to have a Fodder Aid Scheme introduced.  Many farmers in this region are facing a very difficult situation as fodder supplies are running out.

The least the Minister could do is fund the transport of fodder from the South and East of the country and also provide some financial assistance towards the costs of other feedstuff. The Government needs to listen to the genuine concerns of farmers affected by fodder shortages.”

_______________________________________
For
Written Answer on :
14/12/2017
Question Number(s)
: 578 Question Reference(s): 54121/17
Department:
Agriculture, Food and the Marine
_______________________________________


QUESTION 

 To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if he will give further consideration to the introduction of a fodder aid scheme following the Fianna Fáil Private Members Motion on this issue and the difficulties facing farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

                                                                                                       Brendan Smith TD

REPLY


Weather conditions over much of this Autumn have been challenging for farmers and created difficulties for farmers particularly in the Western regions and on heavier land types.

Grass growth rates through the autumn have been ahead of last year. However the poor weather resulted in cattle being housed earlier than normal in places, particularly on the heavier soils; it also affected late cut silage making operations.

I have asked Teagasc to work locally in areas with fodder difficulties, supporting good budgeting of fodder supplies on farms for the winter ahead.

The European Commission agreed to my request for an advance payment of the 2017 Basic Payment Scheme. This meant an increase from 50% to 70% in the rate for the BPS to those applicants whose applications were confirmed fully clear and 85% payment of our main Agri-environment scheme, GLAS. Issuing of these payments commenced after the 15th October.

Over ■1.2 billion in payments has issued to farmers over recent weeks, something that has significantly improved cash flow on these farms.

In order to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the issue of fodder availability, I recently convened a fodder group which is made up of all the main stakeholders including feed merchants and co-ops, banking, farm bodies etc and the first meeting took place on Monday 11th December chaired by Teagasc. The group’s objective is to actively monitor the situation and to ensure co-ordinated expertise and guidance is available to all farmers impacted.

Arising from the meeting, Teagasc will begin a survey of fodder availability in the east and south of the country to ascertain what supplies are still available for purchase, across the country.

Exploring these avenues means my Department will be fully informed of the situation on the ground and the best possible advice will be provided to farmers re their options which may include sourcing alternative feed, reducing non breeding stock numbers and ensuring they carry out a fodder budget.

I will continue to actively monitor the situation in the impacted areas over the coming period.

 

Smith calls for guarantee on Minor Works Grant

– Minister must commit to grant payments in 2018 –

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Minister for Education & Skills to give a clear commitment that the Minor Works Grant Scheme will be continued in 2018.

Deputy Smith submitted a series of questions to Minister Richard Bruton following queries from a number of schools throughout Cavan and Monaghan.


“While I welcome the fact that Minister Bruton has committed to paying the grant this year, after a long delay, I am very worried that he has appeared to rule out the provision of the grant for 2018. This is simply not on. This grant provides funds for essential maintenance work as well as for buying equipment or furniture. The majority of principals across Cavan and Monaghan depend on this payment for the day to day running of their schools – and it’s factored into the annual budget”, explained Deputy Brendan Smith.


“There has already been a serious delay in the roll out of the grant this year – it’s usually paid in November but the Minister only confirmed in December that it will be paid. While I welcome the commitment to pay it this year, we need a guarantee that it will be paid every year from now on.


“The only year that this grant was not rolled out was 2012, during the height of recession. It would be bizarre if, as the economy starts to turn, this were to be the key turning point at which the grant would not be paid.


“Fianna Fáil would like to see this essential grant, and others like it placed on a statutory funding so that it would be guaranteed. I will be calling for the Minor Works Grant to be included in the National Capital Plan so that there will be security for schools, and they will not have to depend on the discretion of a Minister”.

For Written Answer on : 14/12/2017

Question Number(s): 185 Question Reference(s): 54062/17

Department: Education and Skills

______________________________________________

QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if provision is made in his department’s estimates for 2018 for a minor works grant scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter – Brendan Smith TD.

REPLY

There are significant demands placed on the 2018 education capital budget due to demographic pressures, and the imperative of ensuring a school place for every child.

I indicated to the House last week that it is unlikely the Minor Works Grant 2018/2019 will issue during the 2018 calendar year and that it will probably have to be paid early in 2019.

I should point out that the payment of the Minor Works Grant is not confined to any particular date and can in fact, if paid, be issued during any month of the school year.

As part of our longer term infrastructural planning, my Department will explore whether it will be possible to give greater certainty to primary schools in relation to the payment of the Minor Works Grant taking account of the Government’s 10 Year Public Capital Investment Plan, which is currently under development.


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